Saturday, April 30

Cheating or just smart?

There was another story in the paper today about kids using technology to cheat while taking tests. I think the set up was scanning some test questions in real time and getting the responses IMed back to them while they were still at the desk.

The headline, "Cheating or just smart?" was mine not theirs. It is reminiscent of a headline I read about a year ago when some teacher seduced some high school boys, and the caption read, "victims or just lucky?"

Tuesday, April 26

How not to talk about simulations

This has happened to me more times than I can count. A bunch of people are in a room, invited for a two day meeting to talk about simulations. The moderator starts out by asking the group why they are interested in simulations.

One says, "Oh, I love simulations. I lead role-plays all of the time in my sales class, and they work really well."

Then someone says, "That's right. I build online certification programs, and simulations are critical."

Another says, "I agree. I love simulations. My kids play computer games all of the time. They are great."

Another says, "Simulations are the best. When I was in law school, we did moot courts, and they were very powerful."

The next person says, "Sure. I have spent decades modeling simulations using all sorts of tools like Stella, and they are great."

Then someone adds, "Absolutely. Simulations are necessary because learning needs to be made a lot more fun."

Another says, "Absolutely. I was a pilot, and we lived in the flight simulator."

"That's right," someone agrees. "The simulations are the most used part of our e-learning library."

Another says, "Oh, I love simulations. I was in the military and we practiced everything a hundred times."

Then someone says, "I work in IT, and we rigorously simulate every new architecture before we implement it."

At this point, I know the conversation is doomed. We have, in five minutes, dug ourselves into an intellectual hole that will take at least a day and a half to dig ourselves out of before we can actually move forward.

Monday, April 25

Questions about eLearning and Public Education

LCB received an email from John R. Wallace who is new to the elearning world and seeking advice on resources on the web regarding public education and elearning. Here are his questions. I'm sure the Learning Circuits Blog community can overwhelm him with good ideas!

....Which brings me to you. I have found the entries at
"The Learning Circuits Blog" to be very interesting,
serving as excellent stepping stones in my recent, much
more focused exploration of e-learning. I hope you might
be able to offer some advice...

Why am I having such a hard time finding articles or
information about e-learning as it might be applied in
public education?

Where are the discussions, the forums, and the people who
are involved?

Are large publishing houses the only real source of
investment in K-12 multimedia content (thus obviating the
growth of ADL-type communities in the field of public

Have I just been Googling the wrong two dozen search terms?

Also, what area(s) of e-learning do YOU see as having the
greatest potential in contributing to public education?...

Nested Feedback: Designing Learning Experiences for Generations for Gamers

One of the interesting parts of creating educational simulations is the role of nested feedback. At any given point, a learner should be getting feedback on short, medium, and long-term actions, all simultaneously.

This thinking is very foreign to traditional instructional designers, but very familiar to anyone who builds or uses computer games.

I like to think of feedback at intervals of Turn 1, Turn 3, and Turn 9. Turn 1 feedback happens after every turn. Turn 3 feedback reflects on the execution of simple strategies and ability to build capacity; we see the results of multiple tactics. Turn 9 gets to the biggest ideas of success or failure.

Here is a breakdown, focusing on specifics.

Turn 1 Feedback is around:
*Do I understand my options at any given moment?
*Can I map an action that I want to do/ would do in real life to the screen/ virtual world?
*Do I know if I did something really wrong (not always possible)?
*Do I know if I did something really right (not always possible)?

Turn 1 Feedback meets these learning objectives:
+Use of simple process
+Understanding options/tactics

Turn 1 Feedback Uses:
- Voices
- Graphics

Turn 3 Feedback is around (depending on the learning objectives/content/genre):
*Can I influence/ optimize one (primary systems) variable?
*Do I know if I am on the right track?
*Do I know if I have blown any chance of success?
*Do I know where I am losing ground/ need to triage?
*Do I know if I am doing something rather wrong?
*Do I know if I am doing something rather right?
*Do I know what my long-term goal is?
*How does what I do maximize some part of the system?
*How do I traverse some part of the map?
*How do I build some part?
*How do I get some critical competency/ tool?
*How do I control some territory,?
*How do I build some important personal relationships
*Given my strategy, am I executing against it?

Turn 3 Feedback meets these learning objectives:
+How actions impact a System
+Executing complicated process

Turn 3 Feedback Uses:
- Triggers at milestones reached
- Onscreen graphs and maps

Turn 9 Feedback is around (depending on the learning objectives/content/genre):
*Did I win?
*Can I optimize/ influence many (primary systems) variables
*Did I build what I wanted to build?
*Did I get to where I wanted to go?
*What does victory actually look like?
*Do I understand the trade-offs in my victory?

Turn 9 Feedback meets these learning objectives:
+Understanding Systems
+Use of Time
+Execution of Complex Strategy

Turn 9 Feedback uses:
- After action reviews
- Complex charts and graphs
- Multiple analyses of plays
- Advice for future plays
- Scores
- Consequences of actions taken

When learners first engage the sim, they are focused on Turn 1 Feedback. But after a few iterations, either replaying or continuing on to advanced levels, the learners increasingly focus on Turn 9 Feedback.

One necessity of building these nested feedback cycles is that we have to spend a lot more time thinking about failure than thinking about success. Our increasing challenge is how to help learners recognize, and then avoid, failure. This also gets to a concept of level design, again familiar to gamers and foreign to traditional instructional designers.

The bad news is that this is obviously a lot of work. The good news is that it produces formal learning experiences that teach much more, in much less time, in a format that meets the needs of the next generation of learners.

Friday, April 22

The Interface is the Content

One of the big "ahas" of the next generation of elearning designers is that the interface is a significant piece of the content, not just a conduit to the content. We are learning that the interface should line up to the real life activity at some level, high or low, to enable transferability of content.

Computer games designers get this, in that they think about the interface and the complexity of interaction, although they also mislead us, in that they don't care about transferability of skills to the real world; they also rely quite a bit on established genres (first person shooters, real-time strategies).

Not realizing the learning opportunity of the interface, as is the case with traditional designers and learners used to traditional models, has a feedback loop of problems.

If the learner does not realize that the interface is part of the learning, they think the time spent learning the interface is wasted time, which they resent.

Because traditional designers think of the web, with ease of navigation, as a model of a good interface, they design content that is very difficult to transfer.

We are getting over this. But it is slow.

Thursday, April 21

Learning By Doing out tomorrow

Starting tomorrow, a little rock that is my second book will be tossed into the water of our collective understanding. How big the ripples cast is hard to say.

And yet, I can't help but be excited. I am excited because I do think we are in an inflection point when it comes to education. Probably the most true statement from the book comes from its introduction:

"At least a handful of people reading this book will, through their work, define the future of learning, just as absolutely as Shakespeare defined drama, Eastman defined photography, the Beatles defined modern music, Ford defined automobiles, Hitchcock defined modern cinema, and Beethoven defined, well, Beethoven... Productivity and the corresponding standards of living can be raised to the next level. The work of a few people will echo through the ages, changing the very wealth of nations."

To any potential readers, don't worry. Only the introduction and the conclusion have this much hype.

Yet I believe every word.

Sunday, April 17

Training Pays Off

CDW does not just let new telephone reps loose, first they must complete a six and half week training course. And their training continues with a six-month Academy and then a Master's Curriculum. While the stock market has gone down over the last five years, CDW's stock price is up fifty percent.

This is because they, like others, see training as an investment rather than an operating expense. Laurie Bassi, one-time professor of economics at Georgetown University and former vice president of ASTD says that organizations that make large investments in people do much better than others. She further says that the education and training variable is the most significant predictor of an organization's success as compared to price-to-earning ratios, price-to-book statistics, and measures of risk and volatility.

Bassi puts her theories to the test -- her and a fellow partner launched an investment firm that buys stocks in companies, such as CDW, that invest heavily in employee training. It has returned 24 percent a year over the past two years, topping the S&P by four percentage points.

In the Human Equation, Jeffery Pfeffer writes, "Virtually all descriptions of high performance management practices emphasize training" (p.85). Yet, on the very next page he writes that in times of economic stringency, many U.S. organizations reduce training to make profit goals.

Training works, yet it remains at the bottom of the pole in many an organization. But my guess is that it will not remain this way for long. The baby-boomers are starting to retire. There may be quite a few people out of work now, but when the pool of workers slowly starts to dry-up, then it is going to make the labor shortages of the late 90s look like a small bump in the road. How do we best prepare for it?

Donald Clark

For more on Bassi, see:
Carnahan, Ira (2005). Forbes. "Blame the Accountants". April 25, 2005, p. 48.

Delahoussaye, M & Ellis, K. & Bolch, M. (2002). Training Magazine. "Measuring Corporate Smarts." August 2002, pp. 20-35.

The instructor is egoistic. And now the learner is too.

It has often been said that the web allows us to better understand and tailor experiences to ourselves. Online dating services let us take detailed personality profiles to better reveal our hidden selves. We love ourselves, and can't get enough about us. Web citizens are encouraged to be egoistic (and sometimes even egotistic). Even educational simulations are all about us. It is better to be the President than to read about someone else being the President.

Training and educational programs have always been themselves egoistic. "We know something that you should know," they tell us. This is even more true of programs with certification, and even more so with degrees. This is often a good deal, by the way. I graduated from Brown University. People, at early job interviews, didn't have to trust me - they could just trust my alma mater.

This clash of ego vs. ego explains a lot of the angst in not just e-learning and online education, but all formal education. The instructor/course says, "I have the answer." And the student either says or wants to say "Great. I have a different answer."

But ultimately the synergy of the two forces should lead to better experiences for all. Here's an example. When helping clients with rebuilding new employee orientation programs, I start the day with the new employees talking about what seems not great about their new organization. After all, the new people were hired for a reason, and this might be the last chance to get some free, unbiased consulting.


Canary in the Coal Mine Part II: Promotions out of Training

I had a friend who suggested that training groups were career dead-ends. The cases of professionals for whom success at a high level in a training unit led to a position at an even higher level in the organization outside of training were few and far between.

If that is true, that is very frightening indeed. But if that is a false perception, it is also dangerous. Can readers comment on this, either agreeing or disagreeing with the premise, ideally with specifics as data points?

Friday, April 15

Oh, Canada

I sometimes feel that other countries are so much more progressive in terms of pushing elearning's potential than here in the States. Canda, the UK, Australia, New Z., all seem to outstrip us, or at least see things that us Yanks miss but really need to know. (Israel had been one of the places until about four years ago... I wonder what distracted them....)

That is one reason I am so excited to be speaking at the CSTD's 2005 Learning Innovation Symposium. I really look forward to seeing some innovation! If you haven't been to a conference outside of the US, Fredericton, New Brunswick is a perfect place to start.

Of course, it is also the official Candian launch of Learning By Doing, so you can get your very own autographed copy while you are there.

If you do go, please say hello (Of the three pictures, I'm the one at the top!).


Customer Loyalty for Learners? How weird!

I love the stream of consciousness effect imparted by linking from one blog to another. It reminds me of the best part of the best classroom discussions; making new connections. Let me try to recreate a recent experience in a way that you can share.

One minute I'm reading the Furrygoat experience (found because long ago I used his PocketFeed PocketPC RSS reader), the next minute I'm linked to Kathy Sierra (from the Head First books) for a discussion of thank you's for customer loyalty. Evidently she has a thing for trendy eyeglasses, to which I can not relate, having recently turned 40 and only acquired my first pair. However, her local eyeglass store could relate and she was duly rewarded.

I started thinking about how people will wear university hats, t-shirts, sweaters, cheer for teams... long after the learning experience. Will we ever see this for Capella and University of Phoenix or Thompson NETg? What about the elearning in our own organization?

Why? Why not! How can we 'brand' e-learning and bond with our learners, like say Notre Dame? I've never been tempted to paint say a Macromedia logo on my niece's face, but maybe that's just me.

Does anyone contribute to an alumni fund because of one teacher or experience? It is clearly a branded, larger experience. music fades in, playing Beach Boys "Wouldn't it be nice". Is there some way to instill this into our elearning even if our elearning comes from a variety of sources and covers all sorts of content? Top-notch universities accomplish it with a wide range of content and various sub-contractors they call professors.

That's a long enough post for a first timer. I hope you take the time to surf Kathy's blog and read entries like, "Most classroom learning sucks" or "Getting past the brain's crap filter." Sometimes it is nice to think about elearning while you're not really reading about it.

Wednesday, April 13

Look Mom, I said 'sex' in a post!

In light of the recent discussion about gaming technologies and learning (see Where I Disagree with George Lukas and Two Fascinating Books) it was coincidence to run across James Paul Gee's article, Learning by Design: good video games as learning machines, in the lastest edition of E-Learning, a year-old, online peer-reviewed journal.

Gee posits good video games build their success on the backs of good principles of learning. He says, "Under the right conditions, learning, like sex, is biologically motivating and pleasurable for humans (and other primates)."

He outlines 13 principles, describes how video games exploit them, examples, and then how education can apply the same principles. He groups the 13 principles in three broad categories:

Empowered Learners: Co-design, Customize, Identity, Manipulation and Distributed Knowledge

Problem Solving: Well-ordered Problems, Pleasantly Frustrating, Cycles of Expertise, Information 'On Demand' and 'Just in Time', Fish Tanks, Sandboxes, Skills as Strategies

Understanding: System Thinking, Meaning as Action Image

Gee finishes by pointing out that while we think of learning as work, good games show us that deep learning can be fun. He leaves it to instructional designers to guide and scaffold learning through the lessons being taught to us by video games.

Friday, April 8

Training is not important, learning is (and so on)...

Training is not important, learning is.
Learning is not important, doing the right thing is.
Doing the right thing is not important, having measured results is.
Having measured results is not important, having a positive ROI is.
Having a positive ROI is not important, meeting the needs of the budget holder is.
Meeting the needs of the budget holder is not important, increasing your next quarters’ funding is.
Increasing next quarters’ funding is not important, having revenue next quarter is.
Having revenue next quarter is not important, having profit next quarter is.
Having profit next quarter is not important, having the right people is.
Having the right people is not important, having the right experiences are.
Having the right experience are not important, having the right training is.

Clark Aldrich

In Praise of IT Conversations

I think my best "discovery" of the last six months has been the web site IT Conversations. This is a web site that provides FREE downloads of hundreds of cutting edge IT speeches by the best in the industry.

I am one who loves a good speech. It goes deeper than a magazine article, and is more current than a book. It also has passion and personality.

But I am not as fond of the ten speeches in a row format of a typical conference. In fact, I have a hard time sitting through just one.

Rather, I love to listen to speeches while driving, even working around the grounds. I can put several on my PDA, and it reloads automatically when I synchronize after I delete the last one.

We all use ourselves as test subjects, practicing learning. Here is one of the best ways around.


What are topics about which a Learning Professional should be uniquely proficient?

I would greatly value all of your input. What are topics about which a Learning Professional should be UNIQUELY PROFICIENT (i.e. you know more than anyone else in your organization), and VERY PROFICIENT (i.e. critical knoweldge to do your job)?

Here are some thoughts to get the ball rolling:

Virtual classrooms
LMSs/Training Portal
Workflow Learning?
Training Evaluation (Kirkpatrick levels?)
Skills Management?
Organizational Strategic Skill Gaps (OSSGs)
Needs Analysis

Enterprise Strategy
Business Unit Strategy
Project Management
Technology Trends
Application Interface Design?
Schedule of Application Deployments



Thursday, April 7

Learning vs. Training

The cliche is that training is not important, learning is.


And consequently there is one school of thought that suggests we look at the richest possible learning environments, and then replicate them. For me, that is skunk works, microcosms, new responsibility, access to Internet, Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Games, etc.

But here's the thing. There is a big difference between learning a lot broadly and learning a given objective really well. Said differently, the focus on, given a learning objective (say, project management), what is the best way of making that happen, is different than saying, given employee A, how do we make sure she is in a rich learning environment.

I am not saying both are not really important. But I am saying that the Training community has at most a two percent ability to directly influence general rich learning environment, and an eighty percent ability/responsibility to accomplish the successful deployment of specific (and hopefully business critical) learning objectives.

If training has fallen as a word, so be it. But if predictably deploying critical skills is no longer our responsibility, than it will soon be someone elses.

Monday, April 4

ROI and Productivity: Industrial Age Metrics

We have two holy grails in this industry, ROI and Productivity.

ROI and Productivity (ROIP) are great for talking about manufacturing widgets. They are even great for talking about call centers. But value creation? Leadership? Relationship management? Innovation?

Would you use such metrics for an acquisition? How about a hire of a key corporate officer? Would you make a career switch to improve your personal ROI or productivity? Would you use ROIP to make the case to develop a web portal for your enterprise? How about ROIP for picking out what to have for lunch?

With these as goals, we are rushing headlong into the 1950's. I distrust generic metrics anyway. But these seem to especially trap us in the wrong decade.

Books: The new white bread?

White bread is wonderful. Our parents and their parents swore by it as key to our diet. It is part of our culture, depicted in oil paintings, discussed in epic poetry. Preparing bread is a cultural milestone from our own Paleolithic history. Just mentioning a great baguette, brioche, or even peasant bread makes my mouth water. It is the base of our current prescribed food pyramid.

And yet we are learning that it might not be the perfect food. The process of preparing white flour might take out much of what was good in it. The results is something that tricks our body into thinking it is getting nourishment, while spiking and upsetting parts of our own internal chemical balance.

White bread is still a fabulous treat, and it fits nicely into a healthy diet. But to go overboard with it results in bloat rather than health.

That brings me to books. We are very proud of books. Many have a religious zeal about them, especially those old enough to remember when they were very scarce. We all have books that transformed us, that helped make us who we are today. There is no better way of transferring someone else’s internal monologue than a good book. They teach us empathy and respect. We also get facts, allowing us to make more informed decisions.

And yet, as we try to take what we have read and apply it to real situations in an attempt to get a desired result, we are starting to have our own Atkins “aha’s.” We become increasingly aware of what they don’t contain, as much as what they do contain. We love the buzz of a good book, like a good vacation, but hate the transition back to our world.

And, we start to look at computer games and simulations, not as whole wheat bread necessarily, but something with elements that we know we need.

Enough. I am off to read the morning paper and get a bagel.

Friday, April 1

Where I disagree with George Lucas

No, this is not about Phantom Menace, Clones, or Revenge of the Sith.

I greatly appreciate how much George Lucas advocates educational simulations. But when he talks about the “immaculate reality,” the attention to the detail and cohesiveness of the simulated environment, the fear that a discordant factor will break the illusion and the learning, I have to disagree.

There are at least four key reasons:

Adding pedagogical details: Whether an onscreen graph or chart, or forced "advice" from a computer colleague, or even a screen telling you "congratulations," the adding of pedagogical elements on top of the simulation is critical to minimizing frusteration. Maybe these elements can be phased out over successive missions, but if they are not there, the students suffer.

Breaking reality delibrately: Whether training a pilot on a flight simulator, or learning to drive, there are great reasons for breaking reality. An instructor might take out three out of the four engines without warning, to see how the pilot reacts. Or, after successfully following the rules and completing a difficult assignment in a driving simulator, the player might be rewarded with a bonus section where gravity is only one tenth as strong for his or her car.

A focus on certain elements: One reason for a simulation is to narrow down the complexity of the system and the complexity of possible options. If someone wants a perfect simulation of a lemonade stand, I suggest they just go outside and open up a lemonade stand. If they want a perfect project management simulation, they should actually plan a party.

We are imperfect: No computer can yet perfectly create reality. Every new generation of technology shows us how incomplete the last generation was. That can't hold us back. The learning experience should be measured in how much better than previous approaches, not closeness to perfection. On top of that, once we can create a perfect simulation in any given situation, we should just automate the process to behave perfectly and get the human out of the loop.

We have to get better. We have to always be more accurate. We can get more complex. But to create this expectation, and to give traditionalists such a weapon, is more unforgivable than Jar Jar.